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Category Archives: Book

Online textbooks could be fun (or completely annoying)

You’d think I would applaud the trend to digitize textbooks. After all, I’ve winced at the sticker shock of trying to busy a book for a college level class.

But the other day my daughter explained how ‘lame’ it was to have to jump through multiple hoops online just to get to a few pages she had to read for a class. The time spent would have been better spent elsewhere, she said. I had to agree. Sometimes to make things more ‘convenient’ and deliver them in a digital skin, we hide them in confounding folders, hidden behind firewalls that even the Russians my have trouble getting to.

The goal of reading is help students discover ideas and find meaning. Not to be able to check a box on a progress report. Books made from pulp have been a ‘technology’ many want to disrupt. The Nook and the Kindle made a few inroads, but could go only so far. We humans still crave the feel of paper, the tactile experience derived from objects that convey meaning.

I just ordered a book on Amazon. Indeed I read the reviews in the digital realm, but did not buy the Kindle version. Don’t get me wrong. I love reading material on the Kindle app. Just not books anymore.

If you like to read more about The Reading Brain, there’s an excellent Scientific American article which explains how paper sometimes triggers brain circuitry in a way that screens cannot.

 

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Creating an eBook from a PDF – Cool tool!

I am testing a book creation tool called YouBlisher. The goal is to learn how it works so I could teach my students next year how to ‘publish’ in more ways than one! Test it out and let me know what you think.

Click on the icon to view a digital book that lets you flip pages. Then read below the pros and cons:

eBook Experiment - YouBlisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s good about Youblisher:

  1. It’s free, so I don’t have to download any software.
  2. The content has to be created on a local computer, and not on the provider’s website.
  3. You need to convert your document into a PDF to upload it. Which means you create your book as a Microsoft Word doc, or Publisher. Alternatively, you could create a photo book using Photoshop or Powerpoint. As long as you save it as a PDF.
  4. The pages flip like a professional ebook.
  5. YouBlisher gives you a link to embed (which is not what I did here – I just linked an image of the cover, back to the site.) They also give you a Facebook embed code.

What I wish was possible:

  • A way to download the entire ebook, and save it on any device
  • A custom URL would be terrific! Right now it’s www.youblisher.com/p/1391665-Full-STEAM-Ahead. But hey!
  • I wish the links within the content worked. There may be a way to fix this…

Note: The content for this eBook was culled from several posts on this blog. It took me just 20 minutes.

 

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Baxter, Sawyer, Tina, SIRI. Is this our future?

Baxter and Sawyer are brothers in arms, so to speak. They are collaborative, follow instructions, and adaptable to their surroundings.

They also happen to be robots. I find it interesting that they have human names, although they are industrial bots. No mistake they are meant for the factory floor, and not cute or friendly robots that are also coming of age elsewhere. Rethink Robotics, which manufactured them says they are “trained not programmed.” It quotes a professor who says his “long range aim is to try to achieve human level artificial intelligence. So the Baxter would be like a person, maybe not a full-fledged adult.”

  • Baxter is a 2-armed bot, and is described as “the safe, flexible, affordable alternative to outsourced labor and fixed automation.”  It weighs 165 pounds.
  • Sawyer is a one-armed fellow, and is called a “collaborative robot designed to execute machine tending, circuit board testing and other precise tasks.” It weighs just 42 pounds

Why I find this interesting is that we have begun to look at robots in humanistic terms, and this paves the way for them to be ‘invited’ into our homes some day soon. If you don’t believe me ask those who love their Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner.

How long will it be before we have a Homework robot, and an automated, (two-armed, hopefully) Personal Assistant? Low maintenance, too –no need for company benefits. Some people who use SIRI may say they already have one of those! Chat bots are also in the news now – like the Iranian bot, endearingly known as Tina.

Humanoid devices are also the stuff I have begun writing about elsewhere.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2016 in Book, Ed-Tech, Robotics, STEM, Technology

 

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Little known fact: Shel Silverstein penned Dr. Hook’s “Sylvia’s Mother”

I know of many parents who have a copy of Shel Silverstein stashed away somewhere. He was a prolific writer of books such as The Giving Tree, and tomes of books of wacky, insightful poetry such as “Where the sidewalk ends.”

I was looking up the man, and discovered that one of the anthems of the early seventies, “Sylvia’s Mother” was actually a vignette from his life. he knew the original Sylvia, and if you the words of the song resonate in your brain, you’ll know he was trying to get the ‘operator’ reminding him it would cost him “40 cents more” to stay on the line.

When was the last time you had an “operator” intervene between you and the person you were calling?

FootnoteThe Giving Tree has been ranked one of the top 100 books for children, beating several by Dr, Seuss, and even Lois Lowr (The Giver) and Roald Dahl’s books.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2016 in Book, Communications

 

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‘BYOD’ in schools, free ‘Candy Crush’ tablets for MPs – Maybe it’s a good thing

The BYOD – or ‘Bring Your Own Device’ – movement has been gathering steam in schools. If you want to know my position on this, I put it this way: It could quickly turn into Bring Your Own Distraction’ unless we make sure young students understand what screens are good for, and what they are lousy at. Unless we teach young people how to engage with others, and the value of being able to dive deep into issues beyond simple search and scan, we will end up with a distracted workforce, and distracted leaders.

Speaking of whom, consider this: 650 British MPs will be issued iPads after the British elections in May. But apparently the Brits are concerned about distraction. (Just read the headline of this Forbes article, and you’ll know what I mean.) But skepticism aside, it’s about time elected officials are provided with technology that denies them the excuse for not staying in touch with the rest of us.

In my book, Chat Republic, I featured a prescient idea by a Sri Lankan journalist who said that we ought to make democracy more digital. In a nutshell, what Indi Samarajiva said was that the average citizen has a right to know how an elected acts on our behalf, in real-time! Here is Indi expounding on part of that idea.

Last December (21014) Accenture published a paper on ‘Government as a Digital Disruptor. It spoke of the need for an eco-system for open, collaborative, creative engagement. Read the paper here.

 

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“Time Bombs of the Mind” – A journalist’s take on science, technology, and a media-saturated world

The first thing that strikes you when you meet Nalaka Gunawardena is how grounded he is. Someone introduced him as a citizen journalist, but he’s larger than that, with his antennae in many places, covering science, and pop culture, information technology and social media.

Meeting this new generation of media-savvy writers (he’s a blogger and journalist) who are comfortable in both mainstream and new media, makes me optimistic that in a media-saturated environment where one-liners and tweets pass off as news, there is serious journalism underfoot. Nalaka covers such topics as climate change, space science, and road safety, among other areas.

Nalaka’s just published book is, Wanted: Time Bombs of the Mind

 

Full disclosure: I met Nalaka last year in Sri Lanka –we were on a panel discussion related to my book, Chat Republic.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2014 in Book, Media, Social Media

 

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What Computers enable in our second ‘Machine Age’

I just ordered “The Second Machine Age” not because authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee seem optimistic about the ‘digital engines’ that were able to diagnose diseases, talk back, drive cars, and write quality prose. But because they seem to acknowledge the thorny challenges we face as these new machines run our lives.

Think about the recent challenges: We are still surprised by catastrophic weather events, despite the satellites and other climate science tools we have. Our marvelous machines may help us locate a lost phone, but often miss the big things. Just consider what GM’s ‘system’ ignored or considered unimportant in their cars. Then there’s the lost 747. A friend recently commented how, despite all our tools, there’s something humbling about how we don’t have smart enough technology to locate something as big as an airplane.

The book is based on the work at MIT’s Center for Digital Business, at which Brynjolfsson is the prof of management at the Sloan School. I like his description (In a Ted Talk) of what he calls  ‘general purpose technology’ that changes the game.

It’s funny, but this seems to be yet another ‘MIT book’ that has crossed my path that delves deeper into the subject of technology compared to the usual blather about how good things are. Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together was a classic discussion in a narrower field of communication tools and robotics.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2014 in Book, Book Reviews, Social Media